Capitol Alert

Where California politicians stand on pot legalization

Gavin Newsom to politicians: Take a stance on legalizing pot

Lt. Gov. Newsom challenged his fellow statewide elected officials to state where they stand on the fall measure to legalize recreational marijuana, whether they are for or against it.
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Lt. Gov. Newsom challenged his fellow statewide elected officials to state where they stand on the fall measure to legalize recreational marijuana, whether they are for or against it.

California politicians have traditionally opposed legalizing marijuana. In 2010, amid fierce debate about the pot legalization measure Proposition 19, every statewide elected official expressed disapproval. In more recent years, officials have suggested they wanted to wait to see how legalization played out in other states.

Proposition 64, a recreational marijuana initiative on the fall ballot, is generating a slight thaw in political perspectives on legalizing the drug. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate for governor in 2018, is the measure’s highest-ranking supporter. But still many others remain undecided or in opposition.

Here’s a rundown of what some top officials have said about the initiative, or legalization more generally:


Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in June bemoaned the “abject failure” of the “War on Drugs.”

“It’s a war on the poor and it’s a war on folks of color, and it’s got to end. And the only way you end it is by going to the most destructive and the most ineffective component of that war, and that is the war on cannabis.”

At an event in July, Newsom said his wife was persuaded to potentially support pot legalization after he showed her an article about teen use decreasing in Colorado.

“That was one point of emphasis that I have been making to her: It’s still illegal (for those under 21) to use cannabis. We are not changing that ... As a parent myself I express a similar concern, and that’s why I (put a review process of the issue) together so early.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, in May made the conservative case for legalization.

“Our current marijuana laws have undermined many of the things conservatives hold dear – individual freedom, limited government and the right to privacy.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, in July said as a prosecutor his guiding principles are to uphold the rule of law and protect the most vulnerable citizens.

“Scientists and health care professionals believe that keeping marijuana illegal is unjustified. Prosecution of marijuana violations clog our already overburdened courts and cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually to enforce.”


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in July reiterated her belief that pot should be illegal, saying California’s measure is “substantially different” from legalization measures in other states.

“It rolls back anti-smoking advertising protections we’ve had for decades and allows marijuana smoking ads in prime time, on programs with millions of children and teenage viewers.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he hasn’t yet seen enough evidence from Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington to change his mind.

“It’s a gamble that’s going to have a big effect on our communities. We haven’t even begun to see the true long-term impacts in other states that have done this.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne-Marie Schubert in May said the measure has a loophole that will allow convicted drug dealers to be eligible to receive a recreational marijuana license.

“I have spent much of my career advocating for the well-being of our children. This initiative will endanger the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Undecided/No position

Gov. Jerry Brown has not commented on the measure, nor has he taken a position. Brown in January joked about marijuana legalization and a separate measure, Proposition 63, cracking down on ammunition sales. “All I would say is, ‘Don’t smoke marijuana when you’re using your gun,’ ” Brown told reporters.

Brown two years ago on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said he worried about legalizing recreational marijuana.

“The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Gov. Jerry Brown offers a thought about marijuana and guns. (Video courtesy Cal Channel)

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said through a spokesman that she is still studying the results from the states that have legalized marijuana and has not come to a conclusion yet. In June, Boxer appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” and said she was “leaning in favor” of Proposition 64.

“There’s just one issue that’s a serious one I am looking at, which is worrisome from Colorado and Washington state where they have seen ... driver fatalities go up. But, there is something in the initiative that does address it. So, I am hoping that I’ll be able to support it this time.”

Treasurer John Chiang said he supports the private legal use of cannabis by adults and at this point leans in favor of Proposition 64.

“However, it must be properly regulated with the appropriate transparency, including adequate disclosure of THC content and adulteration. Local governments should be able to place appropriate limits on the location and density of outlets. Furthermore I want to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect minors from access and advertising.”

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said he remains undecided on marijuana legalization.

“I’m not there yet. I don’t know if I’m behind the times in comparison to other folks, but I still have my concerns. I have yet to make a final determination where I will stand as an individual citizen on this issue.”

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, says he has not made up his mind about Proposition 64, the marijuana legalization measure, at a press conference in the Capitol on Aug. 3, 2016.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said he planned to review the initiative during the final recess.

“I generally support the decriminalization of adult marijuana use. With regard to Prop. 64, I will review the specific provisions of the measure after the Assembly completes its work next week and take a position on it sometime thereafter.”

Controller Betty Yee in June noted she has been a supporter of medical cannabis.

“I am still examining what the regulatory framework would be if marijuana is legalized for recreational use.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris does not take positions on ballot measures, citing her office’s role in preparing their titles and summaries. But Harris, a candidate for U.S. Senate, is generally supportive of legalization, which she believes is inevitable given the current climate.

“There is a whole concern about how we would detect to determine impairment for the purposes of legal or illegal driving. Those are real details and I take seriously when weighing in on a subject such as (this) that we have thought through the details.”

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a possible candidate for governor in 2018, in July said he doesn’t have a position on marijuana legalization.

“We’ve talked about it. It isn’t something that I have thought of as the critical issue of 2016, to be fair.”

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones have not taken a position or commented on the legalization measure. A representative for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did not respond with a comment.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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